Why We Started it All – My Visit with The Geek Whisperers

geek-whisperersA couple of weeks back, my old buddy John Troyer and I started talking via email about social, communities, and how much of a marketing wasteland social has turned into.  A few emails back and forth, and we landed on a few key topics.  He and I worked together on the community team at VMware way back in the day.

Thing of it is, I started the VMware Communities back in the day because it was a great place for customers to talk about some of the coolest IT technology anyone had ever seen *at the time*.  There’s tons of cool stuff out there now, but what VMware did was truly impressive for the time and climate.

And so my appearance on The Geek Whisperers was born.  The Geek Whisperers are a group of three folks (John Mark Troyer, Amy Lewis, and Matthew Brender), who run a weekly podcast on the topic of enterprise marketing to the IT audience.  Loosely.  The topics wander a little, which I just LOVE.

So I went on to talk to John about why we started the VMware communities in the first place, and what became of the whole enterprise IT marketplace online since then.  We also get into how behavior and demeanor and what you posted on the old VMTN forums was self-policed by the community after a while.

And a bunch more cool topics.  A bunch.  It was a HOOT.

You can catch the episode on the Geek Whisperers website at: Geek Whisperers Episode 41

I will surely be back to talk to them all about metrics, ’cause we didn’t geek out nearly enough on that.  I think people who run around talking about mentions and share of voice and number of followers aren’t doing their organization a service, and they ought to be digging deeper.

Till next time :)


Answers to 7 Common Questions About Blogging

All too often, I get the following from a new blogger at my organization:


BLOG IDEAS (Photo credit: owenwbrown)

 ”It’s so daunting trying to blog.  I can’t think of what to blog about, and I don’t have the first idea how to get started or what to do.  This seems really difficult!”

 It doesn’t have to be that way.

Most of the concerns I hear from relative newcomers to blogging revolve around the fear of the unknown.  With a little education and repetition, content creation does not have to be a daunting task.

Here are the answers to the most common questions and concerns I see from new bloggers:

How Often Should I Blog?

In order to grow readership over time, you need to post a minimum of one blog post per week.  Two per week is better, and once a day is the best.  If you blog less frequently than once per week, your audience will grow very slowly, if at all.

How Long Should My Posts Be?

Although this is a largely personal choice, best practices seem to indicate that you should stay on a focused topic throughout the length of a blog post.  A few paragraphs on a very narrow topic is better than a textbook with five of six topics covered.  Somewhere between 250 and 1000 words is probably about right.

What Time of Day or Day of the Week Should I Blog?

The answer to this depends on the topic of your blog, and your audience.  Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Who is your most likely audience?
  • What is the most likely day of the week that they will be able to read your blog?
  • How are you going to reach them proactively?  (more on this later)

In general:

  • Publish posts in the morning (in whichever time zone your audience is)
  • Try not to publish posts on Mondays or Fridays if you’re trying to attract an audience while they are at work
  • Think about publishing a post on weekends if you’re trying to cater to hobbyists or an audience that might have more time to read blogs on weekends
  • For a business audience, I’ve found that the best days of the week to post are Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Your mileage may vary depending on your audience
  • I have also seen spikes late in the evenings if you’re trying to cater to working parents.  I have to assume that this happens because they’re trying to catch up on their internet reading after the kids are in bed

I’m Running out of Ideas!  How can I Stay Inspired?

This is the most common question and the most likely source of fear, uncertainty, and doubt among new bloggers.  The easiest answer is to have a very large stable of ideas before you even have a blog site.

I try to maintain a notepad document on my desktop called “blogs”.  Anytime I’m reading something on the internet that’s related to the blog I write, I consider it to be an opportunity to get inspired.  If something I am reading about social media or communities causes me to have a really strong opinion, I do the following:

  • Open up my “blogs” file
  • Write a note about the blog idea
  • Link to the content that inspired me

When it’s time to write a blog post, I just open up my “blogs” file, pick a topic, and  start writing!

Here are some other ideas:

  • Comment on some other bloggers’ postings.  Link back to their post(s), and talk about why you agree/disagree with them.
  • Comment about a big move in the marketplace you cater to.
  • Read the news about your market, and take notes on things that inspire you.
  • If you’re in a business meeting with your laptop, and you get inspired, open up your blogs file and take notes.  It’ll just look like you’re taking notes during the meeting!

Is it Bad Form to Call Out My Competitors by Name?

In general, it’s better to refer to “your competition” in a generic sense.  If you provide enough detail, they’re going to know you’re talking about them anyways.  If it’s a specific piece of news, you can still refer to them in the generic, and link to the news story that talks about them specifically.

Regardless of whether you use your competitions’ name, there is one simple rule that you need to follow:

Always show respect to your competition, even if they do not show respect to you or your organization.

Why Isn’t Anyone Reading My Blog?

This is the biggest source of disappointment I’ve seen from new bloggers.  They built a blog, they write compelling content, and nobody reads it.  The reasons usually come in three flavors:

  1. Potential audience size
  2. Lack of marketing
  3. SEO issues with the site

Not much you can do about #1.  Unfortunately, that’s the least likely cause of your problems.  #2 is the most common;  you can write all day long and write really compelling stuff, but if you don’t make an effort to put it out there, your audience will grow extremely slowly.  Meanwhile, the author gets frustrated at the lack of readership, and blogs less often, exacerbating the readership problem.

Suggestions to get your work out there:

  1. Start a Facebook and/or Twitter account, and syndicate your postings to those accounts.  Spend time every week (an hour or so) finding and following people talking about the same topics on Twitter.  A lot of them follow you back.
  2. Spend a half-hour after you publish a blog post looking for other blogs, forums, or online social networks that are talking about the topic you just blogged about.  Post on their forums and link back to your post.  If your blog was a response or a retort about someone else’s content, make sure to post on their blog pointing them to yours.

In short, work to get your content out there, and your audience will grow faster.

Why Aren’t More People Commenting on My Blog?

This is another source of common angst among bloggers.   This is the facet of blogging that takes the most time to build.  Comments will start eventually coming in once your audience gets to know you.  Suggestions:

  1. Ask questions in your blog post.  Ask for opinions.
  2. When someone DOES comment, make sure to answer them, even if it’s just to thank them for their compliment/criticism.
  3. Engage with someone who comments outside of your blog by sending them an email or following them on a social network.

I’ll also be writing another post in a few weeks about link trading, which is a great way to get more traffic to your blog.

If you have any questions about blogging, post them in the comments section!

Until next time!

Additional resources:

Social Media Full Disclosure – Be “Friends” with your Kids!

My FaceBook Friends

Image by Josh Russell via Flickr

Today, I will cover our third rule for working with your kids to protect and monitor them online, without them feeling like you’re watching over their shoulder all the time.  The rule we will cover today is:

You will accept all “friend” or “follow” requests from us on your social media accounts.

I know what you are thinking…. you’re supposed to be a guiding element and an influence in your kids’ lives, not a friend!  You are there to set boundaries and rules, enforce discipline, teach your children the difference between right and wrong, and so on.  This very important rule actually allows you to do all of these things.

What Does Being Friends Mean?

For those that are relatively unfamiliar with social media outlets such as Facebook or Twitter, the concept of being “friends” with your kids might not be familiar.  Simply put, when you “friend” your children on one of these systems, it allows you to see content and conversations that they are posting on that site.

For example, if you are friends with your kids on Facebook, all you have to do is log in to your Facebook account and view your news feed.  You will then be able to see all of the updates, pictures, and comments they’re making and sharing with other accounts they have “friended.”

Almost all social media sites have this feature.  Some sites call it a “follow” or “watch” function, but they all do basically the same thing.  Updates and content posted by the people you are following are available for you to view and consume.

Of course, this means you’ll need an account on every social media site your kids use.  This is actually a good thing; being familiar with the sites your children use (including possible security and privacy issues) is a great line of defense in helping to protect them!

Should I Chatter with my Kids on Facebook Now That We’re Friends?

This is a loaded question.  The short answer is: “It depends.”

Some kids will prefer that you do not comment on their posts or status updates, while other kids may not care one way or the other.  For instance, older teens may prefer more separation between their home lives and their other, public relationships.

NO kids want you posting stuff that might embarrass them.  Keep in mind that any of the following things might be things they are not sharing with their friends:

  1. Activities they’re involved in outside of school.
  2. Pet names you call your children (for instance, my wife calls our 17yo daughter “Bunny”… she is NOT supposed to post that!)
  3. Adorable pictures of your 2 year-old in the bathtub, your 8 year-old in pajamas, or their “chubby” phase at any age!  Yes, I know you love those photos.  They’re also likely to embarrass the heck out of your kids when everyone sees them.
  4. Affectionate language from you directed at your kids.  Some may not mind this, but others will be embarrassed by displays of affection online.  A good rule of thumb for this one is:  If they are easily embarrassed by hugs and kisses from you in front of their friends in person, they’re likely to react the same way to similar displays online.

I should state here that open communication is key.  While you are setting up ground rules for how your children will behave online, let them help set up the ground rules for how you will engage with them online.  Ask them to discuss their preferences, compromise where possible, and then respect those boundaries.  This gives them some control over the situation, without risking their safety.  Hopefully, this mutually respectful attitude makes them less likely to break your agreement and decreases the chance that your kids will try to hide online activity from you.

What if I Don’t Know What Social Media Sites my Kids are Using?

This is a common follow-up question.  If you are concerned that your children have started online accounts that you don’t know about, an audit of their online footprint is in order.  I have covered this in a previous blog post about the first rule of social media full disclosure.  Read through it and send us an email if you have any questions!

I’m Following my Kids, but I Can’t See Their Updates.  What’s Wrong?

In some cases, your kids might know enough about the advanced privacy features to be able to hide their updates from you.  For example, Facebook allows a user to put your friends into “groups” and you can set specific security for those groups.  So, in this case, it’s possible your kids did the following:

  1. After they accepted your friend request, they put you into the “Parents” group in their profile.
  2. They then changed their privacy settings so that the “Parents” group cannot see any updates, pictures, or comments.

If you know your children are active on Facebook or other social media sites, and you don’t see their updates, there is a good chance they’ve blocked you.   There is a logical order of operations to handle this:

  1. Log-in to their account yourself to see all of their updates.  You should have their log-in information if you followed the advice in my post about managing your child’s online accounts.
  2. Check if they have assigned your account to any limited access groups in their privacy settings.  You can find a great help page about Facebook Friend Lists on Facebook’s help site.  There is also a great Privacy Help Page as well, if you are generally unfamiliar with Facebook privacy.
  3. If your children have blocked you in any way, be prepared to have a conversation with them about your role in protecting them online.
  4. Almost all social media sites have some sort of privacy settings that users can leverage to hide (or reveal) information to specific people.  It might be a good time to make sure you understand those privacy settings in detail, for every social media site your kids visit!
  5. There are parental control tools that monitor online activities, including reporting on new friends that your kids collect on Facebook and other social media sites.  Check out our resources page for a Round Up of Parental Control Tools!

In my next “social media full disclosure” post, I will talk about how to help your children set up their privacy settings on several popular social media sites, and how to deal with online “stranger danger.”

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